][ Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
I imagine this conversation unfolding somewhere in a university dorm, possibly on a lazy Sunday, around 20 minutes past 4 p.m.
GUY: “Whoa. Dude. What are you playing?”
OTHER GUY: “Dude, Dyad!”
GUY: “Dyad? Dude!”
OTHER GUY: (knowingly) “Dude.”
GUY: (in awe) “Dude.”
OTHER GUY: “Dyad, dude?” (offers controller)
GUY: (thunderstruck by this act of generosity) “Dude! DYAD!”
And thus passes several hours of contentment and concentration, as our heroes race down tunnels of pulsing light, hook onto blobs of pure energy, blur through packs of glowing spheres and zone out to throbbing electronic beats. And then they decide to give the game a try.
Available as a $15 download on the PlayStation Network, Dyad is the latest entry in a sub-genre I like to call the triple-A indie: a title developed by a small team (in this case primarily one guy, Toronto’s Shawn McGrath) yet bolstered by strong publisher support and the object of intense pre-release buzz and post-release acclaim.
Imagine the Frankensteinian stitching together of the arcade classic Tempest, the futuristic racer WipEout, the trance-inducing shooter Rez and maybe a bit of Tetris on a dose of powerful hallucinogens, and you’ve got a rough approximation of Dyad. If you watch it being played by someone else, you will have no idea what’s going on. It looks like a first-person view of Nyan Cat’s explosive diarrhea.
Yet take that PS3 controller in hand, and suddenly the game is wonderfully accessible. If I may bust out the hoary old chestnut we apply to many good games, it is easy to pick up but difficult to master.
And very difficult to describe. Start by imagining Tempest, but instead of shooting enemies coming down a tube, you’re latching onto them to boost your speed as you race through this Technicolor wormhole. Latch onto a pair of identical entities and get a speed boost as you surf along a string of light between them. Graze past latched entities to acquire energy, then use that energy to boost for a few seconds, like Mario fuelled by an invincibility star. Hit an obstacle and lose momentum or energy or a life – whatever the currency is of that particular level.
Each of Dyad’s 27 levels has a specific set of victory conditions – beat the clock, latch onto a specific number of pairs, lance your way through X number of enemies and so on. Getting a single-star rating on each level isn’t hard. Getting the maximum three-star rating (which then unlocks that level’s corresponding trophy challenge) is significantly more challenging.
But Dyad is one of those games that evoke an almost Zen-like state of focus, allowing you to block out the rest of the world. Its various systems and mechanics seem simple on the surface but over time reveal depth and calculated construction. It’s trippy, zippy and occasionally punishing, but offers a sort of natural high that’s almost never harsh.
You should really play it, dude. Here, take my controller.
A unique melange of light, sound, speed and focus, Dyad is as fun to play as it is difficult to describe. So just go try it for yourself.